Have you ever been invited to a wedding and been asked if you want “chicken or fish”? I guess that fancier weddings sometimes have vegetarian or steak options, but regardless, by the time we get to the reception dinner, one entrée has been pre-selected for each participant. (As an aside, have you ever been at a reception dinner, and someone asks you what you ordered? Generally, I have no idea what I might have been hungry for when my wife filled out the RSVP card weeks ago.)
Having said that, when I am asked “chicken or fish”, or “would you like Cool Whip or chocolate on your cheesecake”, sometimes my answer is “both”!
I like “both”:
- I would like to be smart, but I would also like to be popular.
- I want a car that gets good gas mileage, but I want it to have a lot of horsepower, too.
- I would like a job that is rewarding, and also well-paying.
- I want a phone that is powerful and capable (and gets good reception), but I also want it to be low-cost and durable.
And, isn’t that what we are like as human beings? We want it all: “both / and”.
Sometimes, though, there are times when we don’t realize that there is more. We might seem virtuous (in this case, “not greedy”) by only wanting part of what is available to us. However, in these cases, this isn’t because we are selfless, but rather it’s just because we didn’t realize that more is available to us, if we would just ask for it.
When they were younger, my children would sometimes look at a restaurant’s menu and state that what they wanted wasn’t listed. I would encourage them to just ask the server. After all, many casual restaurants can fix anything that they have the ingredients for, and even fast-food restaurants often have items not listed on the menu. In fact, just the other day, I was ordering chicken nuggets for two of my children who like to get 20 of them for a meal. After ordering a 12-piece meal and an extra 8-piece box for each one, the cashier1 politely said that they also had a 20-piece nuggets meal, if I wanted to order that in the future.
You may or may not have heard the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. These chapters are sometimes called the “Sermon on the Mount”, based on the introduction in Matthew 5:1-2. (The results, in Matthew 7:28-29, are pretty impressive, too.)
Matthew 5:17-48 includes a number of smaller “sayings” of Jesus. These are almost proverbs, but even more instructional and educational. After all, a proverb is a saying of wisdom, and isn’t necessarily a guarantee that something will always happen. These teachings of Jesus were often similarly short: easy to learn and easy to teach to others, but they were commands of Jesus to His disciples, and they tell us the truth about the Kingdom of God.
While we take a look at part of Jesus’ teachings here, keep these two ideas in mind: “both / and”, and “more than”.
For instance, in Matthew 5:21-26 (of which a couple of verses are included below, but I implore you to read all Matthew 5:17-48, since Jesus’ words are going to be better than mine), Jesus says that simply not murdering another person isn’t enough. Both our actions and our hearts should show respect for fellow human beings, created in God’s image.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister , will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca ,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Matthew 5:21-22 NIV
When anger wells up in you, or you are tempted to call someone an ugly name, pause and consider two things. 1) “Do you have righteous anger or unrighteous anger?”, and 2) “Are you addressing a person’s actions and behavior, or are you attacking them as a soul created and loved by God?”.
In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus shows again that there is more to the Kingdom of Heaven than just following the law. The law against adultery is still in effect (and remains so for followers of God to this day), but there is more to following Jesus than that.
When you look at other people, see them as God’s creation: souls that need Jesus (whether they need to learn about Him, accept Him, or grow in their faith with Him), not as soulless objects or property for us to exploit.
Within Matthew 5:31-32, without setting aside the truth of the Law of Moses, Jesus showed us a much simpler way: align our hearts with Him, accept His gift of salvation (paying the sacrifice for our sins under the Law), and enjoy freedom to do good works as an outpouring of our faith (and, I think, an expression of gratitude and worship).
When you are in conflict with someone else (especially a spouse, but also others), consider God’s faithfulness to His people, and Jesus’ faithfulness to His bride (the church), as you formulate how you will navigate the disagreement.
Matthew 5:33-37 is sort of a “both / and” instruction for Jesus’ followers, as well as a “more than” command. Of course we should keep our vows (if we have made any), but we should also always tell the truth or keep every promise that we make.
When you get caught up in telling a story, or are frustrated that others don’t believe you, remember that we are called to tell the truth. No other party or power should be required to validate our words.
Although the Law of Moses limited excessive revenge, Jesus called on HIs followers in Matthew 5:38-42 to go beyond even that rule.
When you are harmed, insulted, or offended, consider Jesus’ instructions about turning the other cheek. We are called to do more than the absolute minimum, and always getting justice for ourselves is not always necessary.
We find that, in Matthew 5:43-48, if turning the other cheek wasn’t enough, Jesus instructs His disciples to love their enemies. Why do we love our enemies? If children (even adopted children) have a family resemblance, and God loves those who are opposed to Him, we should do the same thing.
When you have decided that someone is your enemy (or they have decided that for you), love them and pray for them.
So, in conclusion, we no longer have to worry about keeping the law for our salvation, but in return, we are expected to live as children of God, with our hearts focused on righteousness, so that our actions rarely get to the point of sinning against God in the first place.
Both / And. More Than. Amen.
Based on Sunday School lesson prepared for (and delivered on) January 10, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 1, pages 79-80. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p. 102-121.
- When writing this article, I was struggling to think about what to call the person behind the register. I asked my son and he mentioned baristas at Starbucks so, since the restaurant happened to be Chick-Fil-A, maybe this lady was the “chickenista”?↩